Credit reporting agency Equifax reported last week that hackers stole 143 million people’s personal information.
Equifax said the thieves made off with names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, partial driver’s license numbers, and addresses. That information could come from anyone with a credit score because Equifax gets it from banks, retailers, lenders, and credit card companies without ever contacting the people connected to that data.
CNN Money said the compromised information could give hackers and identity thieves the tools to steal your tax refund, open new credit cards or rent apartments in your name, and even dump speeding tickets caught by red light cameras onto your record instead of theirs.
Equifax created a website where people could submit their personal information – including parts of their Social Security number – to see if they could have been compromised by the breach. However, CNET reports they found the Equifax site unreliable in their tests. CNN Money also reported that using the site could opt people out of the ability to sue Equifax if their identity is stolen.
So what options are left to people concerned about their credit security, especially those worried about giving more personal information to the company who lost it in the first place just to find out if they were affected?
Equifax said they won’t directly contact everyone who was affected by the breach. Instead, they will send letters to people whose credit card numbers or dispute records were accessed, and set up a call center at 866-447-7559.
The company also offered a free year’s worth of credit monitoring and protection through Trusted IDPremiere starting Monday, but the process for signing up includes limiting your rights to sue Equifax. CNN Money said opting out of that clause requires sending a letter directly to the company.
In the meantime, credit experts say people concerned about their credit score should file a fraud alert through one of the big three credit reporting agencies. That will require lenders to contact your directly before issuing credit in your name. A further step would be issuing a credit freeze, which would give you a personal ID number which must be used each time someone wants to access your credit. Fraud alerts are free for the first three months, but more extreme credit freezes can cost around $10 depending on which state you live in.
Experts also said people should keep a closer eye on their credit reports for suspicious activity like new credit lines or charges from unknown companies. You are entitled to one free credit report each year from the three credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
If you think you have been the victim of fraud or identity theft, the first step is to file a police report with your local law enforcement agency. More details about dealing with identity theft can be found at the Federal Trade Commission’s ID Theft website.